REVIEW: Jimmy’s Hall

1 07 2015

Over a year ago, I rolled my eyes when I read that acclaimed British director Ken Loach called “to sack the critics and get ordinary punters in. People experienced, who know life.”  Now, after finally seeing “Jimmy’s Hall,” I can somewhat see his rationale.

His final film is an anthem to the hard-working, salt of the earth Ireland people who put in a hard day’s work and only request a fair wage as well as the ability to celebrate in joyous dance.  The titular hall, constructed by good old boy James “Jimmy” Gralton (Barry Ward), once served as a lynchpin of the small town of Leitrim.  After ten years exiled away in America, he returns to reopen the cultural center and restore a sense of community to the town torn apart by years of civil strife.

But, of course, it cannot be that simple.  The immensely powerful Irish Catholic Church stands steadfast in opposition to the hall, which wants to keep the impressionable youth away from any place apart from the church’s supervision and where they might receive a contradictory education.  (“Footloose,” is that you?)  Jimmy gets his name drug through the mud by one particularly malicious priest, who accuses him of the era’s catch-all phrase to drum up fear of suspect outsiders: communist.  This only leads to the small conflict simply growing in size and the sides further entrenching their interests.

Jimmy, practically a mouthpiece for Loach’s social democratic ideology, gets several opportunities to ascend a soapbox and deliver rousing sermons of his own.  His philosophy, highly formed by seeing the greed of the American Roaring Twenties usher in the Great Depression, simply calls for institutions to pay greater attention to the common people and lesser to themselves.  In these moments, “Jimmy’s Hall” proves decently rousing in spite of its preachy, conventional storytelling.  Loach’s calls for toleration, liberty, and justice feel pressing and relevant, even though it might serve more as a personal statement than an illumination on present-day issues.

Loach says that “by and large [reviewers] reflect their own perception through their hostility.”  While I do not necessarily attempt to say I am an exemplary human being or film reviewer, I can say that “Jimmy’s Hall” awakened the empathy within me.  Though I am not a member of the working class, the movie definitely made me think and feel a little more deeply about their concerns, both then and now.  B / 2halfstars

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